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My constituents opened up their mailboxes last week and found another burdensome bill to pay, courtesy of Gov. Jerry Brown and the majority party in Sacramento. More than 26,000 property owners in Kern County who live in areas serviced by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) received notices demanding payment of a new $150 "Fire Prevention Fee," approved by the Legislature with no Republican support and signed into law by the governor. This new "fee" is expected to raise millions of dollars, but the funds won't go towards hiring more firefighters and putting out fires. It just takes aim at rural property owners as the latest victims of Sacramento's insatiable tax-and-spend appetite.
This new fire tax is simply a ploy to shift money around and pay for more government programs. It is unfair and likely illegal, because the majority party made an end-run around the Constitution by slapping the label "fee" instead of "tax" on the proposal and approving this mandate by a simple majority vote. It should have been acknowledged as the tax that it is and approved by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature. An assessment that raises money in excess of what is needed to cover costs is a tax, and that's exactly what is happening here.
I co-authored legislation to repeal the fire tax but it was ultimately rejected by the Democrats dominating the committee process. Efforts are still under way, however, to challenge the constitutionality of this tax. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the advocacy group that championed Proposition 13, plans to file a lawsuit in coming weeks.
Property owners can also protest the tax and make it clear that they won't let Sacramento politicians pick their pockets. To appeal, property owners are required by the state Board of Equalization to first pay their bill, and then they can submit a petition in writing with their protest. Please visit my Assembly website -- http://arc.asm.ca.gov/member/32/ -- for more information on the documented appeal process.
This fire tax is typical of the mindset of Sacramento's Democratic majority, which considers it acceptable to charge hardworking Californians more without providing them increased services. How often do you hear politicians say, "It's for the children," knowing that's exactly who it is not for? This new illegal tax is not "for increased fire protection," no matter how they define it.
Sacramento Democrats continue to shortchange funding for vital priorities like public safety and fire protection and instead use our tax dollars to feed their ever-growing bureaucracy. Then they tell us that if we want our priority services, we need to pay more taxes. This fire tax is nothing more than a shell game -- a boon for state government and a bad deal for rural taxpayers.
Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, represents the 32nd Assembly District in the California Legislature, which includes Bakersfield, Ridgecrest, Tehachapi, Taft, Frazier Park/Lebec, and the Kern River Valley. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words.